Driven by her faith and commitment to helping others, Pascale Kunda has made an indelible impression on the St. Thomas community during her time on campus. Recently voted this year’s Tommie Award winner by students, faculty and staff, Kunda has been recognized as a senior who best represents the ideals of St. Thomas Aquinas through scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.
In a nomination submitted by Dr. John Wentz, associate professor and Mechanical Engineering chair, he described Kunda as a “model St. Thomas student.”
“She exemplifies the vision and commitments that we hold dear at St. Thomas: excellence in academics, leadership, and involvement, all while serving the common good,” Wentz wrote.
Kunda, a native of Rwanda, was initially drawn to St. Thomas after learning about the School of Engineering. The mechanical engineering major (with a peace engineering minor) has embraced her strong faith background and, as a result, is a member of the planning committee for Tommie Catholic and a peer minister for Campus Ministry. Kunda is also part of the engineering student alumni mentoring program, and in 2019, she returned to her home country of Rwanda to repair hospital equipment through the Engineers for World Health program. She is the first engineering major to receive the Tommie Award.
We recently caught up with Kunda – who even over Zoom exudes kindness – to talk about everything from what the Tommie Award means to her to how she likes to spend a free Saturday afternoon. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
What have you learned about yourself during your time at St. Thomas?
I’ve learned that small acts of kindness matter. I’ve learned not to grow weary of doing good, because you can make an impact. You can make somebody happy even when you can’t see it. It’s hard to do good when you don’t see the fruit, but I’ve learned to be faithful in the goodness and just know that the Lord will take care of it. I’ve learned not to be afraid of doing things that are new or things that are challenging. I’ve taken on new responsibilities and opportunities that I never thought I would ever do by just pushing myself a little bit, challenging myself, and by taking classes that challenged me as well.
What does the Tommie Award mean to you?
It is such a joy and an honor to be nominated and selected for the Tommie Award. It’s an honor to know there are people who believe in me. I’m also very grateful for my professors and people who nominated me and everybody who has worked on it.
What has it been like being a part of the peace engineering program?
I love it so much. It is a part of the [Department of] Justice and Peace Studies, and I think everybody should major or minor in justice and peace studies. I think whoever doesn’t is missing out because it has been so eye opening. The program helps you see the world in a perspective that helps teach you how to make an impact for real. It teaches you about what you can do, and how you can approach complex situations — not by coming from an ignorant perspective, or only knowing one facet of the solution – but by knowing the full picture so you can better work toward finding solutions.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I want to make an impact on the world with my evangelization skills, my engineering skills, and the different skills I’ve learned in my peace engineering minor. I want to use these skills to involve people in the design cycle process and find solutions that work best for them and their communities and hope that those solutions will impact and change their lives in the best way possible.
What advice do you have for first-year students?
First-year students should allow themselves to be challenged and embrace the diversity in this world. To hang out with people or meet with new people that do not think like them so they can be challenged. I think that broadens one’s perspective on the world, which is important and it’s something that the university offers through the different classes because in those classes are people who think differently than I do. That’s a good opportunity to get to know them and try to understand why people think the way that they do.
Another piece of advice for first–year students is that the party life is not going to be the best experience of your college life. You can leave your college life 100% satisfied without being involved in that. Don’t get involved in things that will wear or tear you down. I want them to know that they should have fun and have fun in the best way – in a responsible way.
Who inspires you?
Two people who inspire me are my mom and my dad. They inspire me through how they live their lives. I also look for inspiration from people who are committed to their faith, have given themselves to the Lord and fully live their life in that way. I look for inspiration from my friends, and how they choose to live their lives. My professors inspire me by how they know what they’re doing and what they’re teaching and how they choose to teach us. They know that has an impact on who we become through the way they form their classes. Someone else that inspires me is my brother. He is so resilient and committed. He’s 12 years younger than me and seeing what he has achieved just amazes me.
What makes you smile?
The goodness of the Lord makes me smile…. because God is perfect and righteous, He can be so kind to us, that we don’t know what to make of it. It’s just overwhelming.
What is the last book that you read?
“The Holy Spirit.” It’s actually the first book I’ve read and finished in a long time. The book taught me how to live out my faith in a deeper way. I really liked it.
You have a free Saturday afternoon – no homework or school duties. What does that look like to you?
I like hanging out with my friends, I like talking to my family, I love listening to music, I love sitting down and just thinking about the world, thinking about my life. I would do a combination of all those things. Maybe if a friend wanted to, we would watch a movie. I love animated stuff, I love cartoons.